Monday, 20 July 2015

Visiting The Island #1: I.D.

Or a look the opening page of Why Don't You Like Your Body 
by Emma Rios; Island Anthology, Image Comics

Island is a new comics anthology run by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios, two comics creators whose work I profoundly enjoy. And since both of these artists have multi-part stories currently running in the comic and because I've been in the mood to try an anthology comic, Island was a must read for me. I was not disappointed.

I was also super impressed by Emma Rios' comic I.D., particularly the form and function of it's opening page, which I think is worth exploring in detail.

There will be *SPOILERS* for I.D. pt. I below. 

I am deeply fascinated by opening pages: how do they go about establishing a theme, setting a mood, or opening a contract with the reader. Viewed through that lens, the opening page of Why Do You Hate Your Body is a really impressive feat of comics.  One that functions on a variety of levels.

From a purely storytelling perspective, this page manages to elegantly drop a ton of information on us. The first three tiers of the page each focus on one of the main characters, giving us tiny glimpses of each person, and just enough to compare them. Broadly speaking these tiers show us a feminine woman with pedicured nails and mannerisms, a bespectacled man with glasses, and a third, slightly androgynous person with delicate hands. The page also drops setting hints, with two shots that anchor the composition to a restaurant, or more likely, a coffee shop. And, judging from the nervousness and sidelong glances, that these three characters are probably strangers and somewhat uncomfortable with each other. Which is a huge amount of information for a page of textless snapshots.

Layered into this narrative information is some really adept work with theme. I.D. is a comic about extreme cosmetic surgery, which, at its heart, is about fixing those aspects of yourself which displease you. I say you here because the reality is, no matter how broadly happy you are with yourself, there are probably little quibbling aspects about your body that bug you. I'm balding in the weirdest way, which I am largely fine with, but I'm worried that it is revealing that I have an overly large forehead, what Raymond Chandler would say "was so much more head than you expected". I am slightly unhappy with the area where eyes and nose meet, the lack of architectural interest along my too straight nose, and the size and prominence of my mouth. I mean, taken all together everything works alright, and I am generally happy with my face, but treating each of these things in isolation, it becomes easier to focus on the bad. And I think this page of I.D. captures that experience, that breaking down to focus on individual aspects, eyes, hands, mouths, noses; those specific things that the characters might want nipped or tucked or surgically altered. Which works to evoke those feelings of insecurity that lurk in us all, to empathically transmit those insecurities onto the characters in the composition, and to generally establish the themes of cosmetic surgery.

This composition takes this thematic aspect a step further by combining snapshots of physical traits with the furtive glances of the characters. We get the sense that not only do these characters judge themselves, but that they are also judging each other; appraising the bodies of the other characters. Which in a way draws attention to the physical characteristics of these people and invites us as readers to judge and appraise the various bodies in the comic. It's also, given the final revelation that these characters will be undergoing a body transplant, presumably each others, a wonderful bit of foreshadowing.

Another cool thing about the opening page is how this later page calls back to it to close a storytelling loop. The first page uses a group of circular tight shots focusing on individual body parts to show a group of strangers nervously and warily judging each other. This later page, right before the end of the comic, uses similar round, hand focused shots, to show these three characters uniting to escape a protest/riot in the streets outside their coffee shop. This choice makes the two sequences echo each other and closes the storytelling contract established in the opening page: our protagonists have met, united and are working together. This page is also really clever, because the human chain of joined hands no doubt foreshadows the swap of bodies that will occur following the body transplant operations. It's really adept story structure.

Based on this sample, I.D. is going to be an interesting and technically adept comic that you ought to seek out. And if you are looking for an anthology comic to try, Island #1 is filled with good comics and at $7.99 for 100+ pages of content, is ridiculously good value.

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